This House believes that George Bush has kicked open the door to democracy in the Middle East

Wednesday March 30 2005
MOTION REJECTED by 27% to 73%

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This House believes that George Bush has kicked open the door to democracy in the Middle East

This month’s Doha Debate: 'This House believes that George W. Bush has kicked open the door to democracy in the Middle East.'

DOHA—Millions turn out to vote in elections in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories. Hundreds of thousands take to the streets of Beirut to demand an end to Syrian meddling in Lebanon.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak offers a glimmer of hope that his country’s opposition parties will at last be allowed to make their voices heard. Israel and the Palestinian Authority step cautiously into a new round of dialogue that has even the skeptics wondering if peace can be achieved at last.

Is this real movement toward democratic reform and peace in the Middle East? If so, how did it happen? Who, if anyone, gets the credit for the astonishing developments of the last five months? Is it possible that the Bush administration’s much maligned foreign policy is finally bearing fruit?

On Wednesday, March 30, the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development presents the fifth in its series of Doha Debates, a forum for discussing the most current and controversial issues in the Arab and Islamic worlds. The motion before the House this month is 'The House believes that George W. Bush has kicked open the door to democracy in the Middle East.'

Modeled on the legendary Oxford Union debates, the Doha Debates are hosted by the internationally acclaimed broadcaster Tim Sebastian, formerly of the BBC’s HARDtalk programme. Sebastian presents a motion to the audience—usually, as in this case, a statement intended to provoke the audience and the guest speakers. Two panelists speak in favor of the motion and two speak against it. Sebastian questions each speaker and then encourages them to take on each other’s arguments. Afterward the panelists take questions from the audience, who ultimately vote for or against the motion.

Standing up for the Bush administration’s foreign policy will be Fouad Ajami, the Majid Khadduri Professor and director of Middle East Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies, and Salameh B. Nematt, the Washington DC bureau chief for Al-Hayat and LBC.

Speaking against the motion will be Ghayth Armanazi, chairman of the Arab International Media Forum and former Arab League Ambassador to London, and Dr. Azzam S. Tamimi, head of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought in London.

The Doha Debates are just one effort in the Qatar Foundation’s mission to promote active, participatory education in Qatar and the region. The monthly series is intended to nurture open dialogue on the burning issues in the Arab and Islamic worlds, and to explore new solutions to old and intractable problems.

“We hope to promote free and open debate, encourage people to question politics and politicians,” Sebastian says. “We want people to see debate as a vital component of a functioning democratic society. And I think we are going to surprise people who tend to see the region as monolithic.”

The March 30 debate is the fifth in the series. It takes place in the foyer of Qatar Foundation’s headquarters building in Education City, a 2,500-acre campus that is home to progressive educational and research institutions, including branch campuses of four of the world’s leading universities. The foyer is transformed into a TV studio for the event, with a live audience of 300, about half of them students.

The January 17 debate—'This House believes that Iraq’s neighbors have no wish to see a democratic Iraq'—and the February 23 debate—'This House believes that the Middle East road map for peace is dead'—were both broadcast internationally on BBC World. It is expected that the March 30 debate will be televised as well.

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